On teaching and finding one’s niche

This was the last week before the spring semester gets underway, and I spent most of it wrapping up a big web-design project I’ve been working on intermittently for the last year. It’s for an undergraduate class that’s been in the works for some time. I’m doing some librarian outreach work with the students in the class, too; I’ll be introducing myself on the first day, demonstrating the website, and (time and other projects permitting) sitting in on some of the lectures, which promise to be fascinating. (The story of how all this came about is a long one, but I hope to narrate it as an article sometime soon, if the other people involved are amenable.)

Yesterday I looked into the empty lecture hall where we’ll be meeting next week, to get a feel for the space, and I thought how strange it was to be about to re-enter the classroom, and at the same time not strange at all, because I’ve been teaching in one way or another ever since I got here. I’ve taught bibliographic instruction sessions for freshmen and sophomores; I’ve taught grad students and professors how to use Early English Books Online and its ilk; and at the reference desk I’ve taught more people than I can count how to navigate their way through catalog records, article databases, encyclopedias, dictionaries, WorldCat, and the open web.

I used to quiver with nerves in front of a room full of students. At the end of the best class I ever taught as a graduate student — a class that still makes me glow when I think back on it — I asked the students for feedback, and one of them said (not unkindly) "You seemed kind of nervous." I got past the stage fright after a while, but I always thought I did the most good when I could talk with students individually during office hours, when we could focus on the questions at hand and have a conversation rather than a mostly one-sided exchange. One of the best things about my time here has been the realization that the kind of teaching librarians do is exactly the kind of teaching I like best — with the added bonus that one tends to learn all kinds of unexpected things in the course of helping people find what they’re looking for.*

I made the right call when I ran off to join the librarians. But who’d have thought that would be how I’d discover my Inner Teacher? Not me, but I’m very glad I have.

* Not to mention the absence of grading, which is a perk in and of itself.

2 Responses to “On teaching and finding one’s niche”

  1. Bane says:

    Just out of curiosity, how many classes did you have to teach before it became comfortable and unfrightening?

  2. Amanda says:

    I don’t think it ever became comfortable, which may be the difference between me and the people who take to classroom teaching like ducks to water. But it did become unfrightening after I went directly from an awful teaching semester to a fantastic one. That was when I figured out that it really wasn’t all about me. And that defused a lot of the scariness.